Lots of suspicion has been thrust upon the Miami Dolphins defense this season. Or, put another way, people have openly doubted this defense.
There’s been chatter about points allowed (24.1 per game, tied for 22nd), the low number of sacks (20, tied for 24th), the lack of turnovers (8, tied for 30th), and a few other things.
But what’s important to defensive coordinator Josh Boyer?
How does he think the defense is performing?
For the record, Boyer likes his defense and thinks they’re playing pretty well.
“The common theme has been that our players have welcomed adversity,” he said. “They have not changed, they have not wavered. Their work ethic, the time that they put into it outside of what’s been required of them has been pretty impressive and I think those guys have done a pretty good job.”
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Beyond that, here are the situational/statistical categories Boyer said he scrutinizes in regard to his defense, the areas he uses to self-scout:
* Winning. That’s self-explanatory.
* Getting off the field on third down. “When you do that, it kills drives, it kills points,” Boyer said. “It gives you an opportunity to play complementary football, get the ball back to your offense, put them up in a good field position, gives you an opportunity to rush a punt.”
The Dolphins defense ranks 27th in third downs with opponents converting them into first downs 44.4% of the time.
* Early downs. “How are you doing on early downs?” Boyer said. “Is it a run issue? Is it a pass issue? Are you committing one way to defend something?”
* Two other situations. “Then you look at red zone, and then you look really at two-minute,” he said.
“I think when you look at all those things, it’s all-encompassing of self-scout,” Boyer said.
“It’s really what you’re doing defensively, what people are trying to do to you, how they’re trying to attack you, and then what they do offensively.”
Things have changed for the Dolphins defense since they acquired edge rusher Bradley Chubb from Denver at the trade deadline. We’ll see how much of a difference he makes on a pass-rushing front alongside fellow rushers Jaelan Phillips and Melvin Ingram and lineman Christian Wilkins. And we’ll see if the pass rush can uplift players such as inside linebackers Elandon Roberts and Jerome Baker, or aid the secondary of cornerbacks Xavien Howard, Kader Kohou and safeties Jevon Holland and Verone McKinley III.
Whatever eventually happens, to this point the defensive numbers haven’t been good.
But you have to drill down a bit in the numbers to see what Boyer sees, to know how Boyer regards the most important stats.
For example, opponents have mostly chosen to pass against the Dolphins, especially with cornerbacks Byron Jones (Achilles surgery) and Nik Needham (Achilles) and safety Brandon Jones (knee) out with injuries.
Opposing offenses have attempted 349 passes against the Dolphins, which is 12th most in the league. Opponents have a 99.5 passer rating against the Dolphins defense, which is third-worst in the league.
And you can be sure teams know the Dolphins rank fifth in blitz frequency at 29.6%, but 24th in pressures at 18.8%.
At a glance we could say teams don’t think they’ll face much pressure from the pass rush, and think they’ll have success completing their passes.
But don’t focus on those general numbers.
Boyer is more concerned about when teams pass. Third down? Early downs? Red zone? Two-minute offense?
“Certain plays obviously stick out that you remember the yardage on those,” Boyer said, “but I think it’s really situationally that you look at and how you can get better at that whether it’s early downs, third down, red area, two minute and I think you kind of put them all in those buckets.”
The same would apply to the third down situation using the numbers above.
Yes, the Dolphins are 27th in the league with opponents converting 44.4% of the time, but you’ve got to drill down a bit because each situation is different.
“I think it’s all situational,” Boyer said. “There’s things we’ve done well on early downs, there’s some things we can improve. I think third down is something that we’ll continue to work on and get better at.
“Two-minute situations, sometimes things don’t come up in games but they’re things you put work in because you never know when they will. And sometimes they could be the biggest situations in the game.”
So how does Boyer think his defense is faring?
Look at the most important number, the team record. That’s good.
And then look at the third down performance. That’s not so good.
After that, you’d have to go deep inside the numbers.
Or, trust Boyer when he says his defensive players “have done a pretty good job.”
“I think we’re still evolving, Boyer said. “I don’t think we’re played our best ball yet. I think we’re getting closer and closer to that.”